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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.24.09] movie review horror drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Lars von Trier
Writers: Lars von Trier
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 9 out of 10

[Editor's note: With the massive schism caused by this film I've been unconvinced, that is until I read this review. It's spine-tingling.]

Lars von Trier. Not a name immediately associated with dark horror and extreme violence, but rather with European independent cinema and the Dogme ’95 movement. With his latest film, Antichrist, Trier has stayed away from the shaky camera, gotten himself a crew and two of the best actors of their generation, and made the most explicit, terrifying and surreal film of the last 10 years, steeped in horrific symbolism and unremitting brutality. I loved it.

Films like this don’t come along too often, and when they do, I don’t believe that they should be condemned or scorned, but rather genuinely celebrated for breaking boundaries and pushing the medium as far as possible. Trier starts his film with one of the most beautifully crafted scenes I’ve ever witnessed, a slow motion montage of sex and death, shot in black and white with an incredible, operatic score, it’s a work of art in itself. This is the prologue, so says a painted sign, and is followed by three chapters and an epilogue.

The set-up is fairly straightforward; a nameless couple living in Seattle, played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, have lost their son. The child simply climbed out of the window and fell, while they made love in the next room. ‘She’ is devastated, falling into a coma for a month and waking to find her husband by her bedside. ‘He’ is an analyst, and insists on treating her with grief counseling; sets of simple tests and exercises designed to help her cope and come to terms with what happened, and likely to aid himself in the same vein. He asks, “What is your greatest fear, right now?” Her response is, “Eden”, the cabin up North where she last spent a summer with their child, and where she worked through writers block on her thesis, a critique of books on witchcraft.

At his insistence, they travel to Eden and begin to work on more exercises, but strange things happen. The house is below an Oak tree and acorns rain down on the roof all day and night, she starts to behave erratically and insists that she’s cured, while he remains skeptical and tries to stay rational in the face of her collapsing sanity, and the danger to his own.

This all makes Antichrist seem somewhat allegorical, the divide between man and woman, science and nature, rationale and madness. The film uses visceral, sexual imagery and extreme violence, yet has some of the most beautifully shot scenes of a haunting forest, shrouded in mist and evoking the darkest fears of humanity, the unknown and the supernatural. Like Defoe in the film, the audience isn’t sure if what’s happening is real or imagined, how seriously we should take the threat and hint of something unreal, until the film reaches a crescendo of horror, with mutilation, sexual violence and an ending as enigmatic and bizarre as one could expect from such an unapologetically twisted film.

Watching Antichrist, I tried to think of other film-makers that have gone this far. Other films that threw down the gauntlet and made their mark as unflinching examinations of humanity’s capacity for imagined violence and horror, while retaining a respect for the medium of film, and seeking to capture people’s imaginations and stay with them for days, if not weeks afterwards. Masters of the surreal such as Lynch, Jodorowsky, Svankmajer, Herzog, Ferreri, Bunuel, and even Aronofsky; film-makers who treat the inclusion of violence, sex and death in their work very seriously, and seek to examine the possibilities.

Critics have already become divided. Jason Solomons of The Observer writes, “It is utterly pompous, stilted and boring.” He thinks, “Shock is the only possible attraction because the rest of the film is nonsense.” He clearly doesn’t share my opinion, that when a film is this daring, and creates this much buzz it should be viewed with an open mind and a deep, deep breath before heading in, and ‘nonsense’ it most certainly isn’t, there is a gripping supernatural plot that made perfect sense to me, scaring me senseless in the process. He also gave away a spoiler about ‘the scene’, that’s ‘shocked’ so many, but for me the film as a complete package is near perfect, and it’s childish to dismiss this as not ‘having earned the right’, as Soloman drones.

We’ve had Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Woyzeck and Fitzcarraldo, and the one film that this might owe it’s biggest debt to; Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’. These kinds of films are few and far between, pushing the envelope, raising eyebrows (and covering eyes) in the process. Now we have Antichrist, and it may be an unpleasant journey into madness and an experiment in fear, but it’s a bloody powerhouse of a film and very much the genuine article. A packed cinema of press entered, a round of applause followed, and, stumbling into the sunlight afterwards, legs weak and hands shaking as they tried to light a cigarette, all I could do was let out an almighty, “F***ing hell!”

Let me know your reaction.

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agentorange (13 years ago) Reply

Wow, great review. I am extremely excited to see this film.

As far as I can remember, all of Von Trier's films have contained some pretty hard subject matter and were the causes of no end of controversy when they were released. It seems like, with Antichrist, everyone expected it to be digestible because it looked like a "standard" horror film or something. I mean, jezzus. It's called "Antichrist."


unyi (13 years ago) Reply

i cant wait to see this.
the trailers and clips look amazing.


Cyberhal (13 years ago) Reply

thanks for the review. Glad to hear it's so so good, can't wait. I reckon Von Trier is a truly original director


Andy (13 years ago) Reply

It seems anymore even slight controversy brings must watch to the table.


edula (13 years ago) Reply

In a world where remakes and "chewing gum for the eyes" are ubiquitous, directors like Von Trier should be championed just for making challenging works, regardless of whether they are, in reviewers minds, good or bad. That Von Trier's films have been consistently excellent just cements the fact that originality, variety and a will to present a vision intact, regardless of critical or public opinion, makes him one of the greatest film-makers in history. I welcome anything new that he creates, and cannot wait to see this film.


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

"Not a name immediately associated with dark horror and extreme violence..." Really? I thought he'd made BREAKING THE WAVES, EPIDEMIC and THE KINGDOM? from those three that play with themes of extreme violence and direct horror I would have thought you would have been able to associate his name with both... and that's leaving out the controversies surrounding so many of his other films...


projectcyclops (13 years ago) Reply

"I thought he'd made BREAKING THE WAVES, EPIDEMIC and THE KINGDOM? from those three that play with themes of extreme violence and direct horror I would have thought you would have been able to associate his name with both..."

Well said, but after Manderlay, Dogville and Dancer in the Dark, I didn't expect this level of horror, it's so unremitting. It did remind me a little of Kingdom.


UncleB (12 years ago) Reply

Obama's only been in office 6 months and he's already got his own movie? WOW.


Ben Austwick (12 years ago) Reply

Great review.

Just been to see this (I never read reviews before I see a film!), thought the controversial bits distract a little from the atmospheric creepiness, which is just amazing and the real thing everyone should be talking about. In fact I thought it went downhill a little towards the end - it's still great, but became a bit derivative.

A big-up for Charlotte Gainsbourg, she was fantastic, dealing with some tricky (misogynist? Too complicated to pass knee-jerk judgement) material.

The nature theme was complicated and well-handled. It touches on some aspects of the religion/atheism/humanism debate disappointingly lacking everywhere else. It's intelligent stuff - to a point. Again I thought it lost it a bit towards the end.

And Edula's right, this is a real must-see film - whether you like it or not, it's certainly interesting and unusual.


Lee (11 years ago) Reply

This is a gender film, an allegorical collision of the Gemini twin insanities...the arrogant cold and cocksure rationality of man versus the random, vigorous and determined chaos of the feminine, the conflict in the collapsing cabin, the fight and flight in a flourishing forest. This beautiful film is about male/female relations, an brutally honest primal eruption catalysed by the accidental death of a child, during a moment of exquisite passion. And it presents an interesting answer as to the nature of gynocide. There are subtleties to this film that many will miss. The mans' experience is particularly interesting. In fact, his journey is that of many men, wandering the wilds of the feminine, wounded, emasculated, lost, hunted, under siege from that same faceless mass, simultaneously hungry and bewildered by his hunger.

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